There’s something to be said about pieces that speak their history through their old age and rusty patina, and it’s one of the reasons I’m so drawn to mountain homes and log cabins. There’s a project we’ve had in mind for our RV, all we needed was some antique horseshoes.
Fast-forward several months and now that we’re ready for the project I can’t find old horseshoes anywhere! I have to tell ya, making metal rust in fast-forward was even more fun than I anticipated.
Update: If you watch the video at the top of the post you can see how using a small spray bottle or one with a misting option makes this method even easier! After I placed my horseshoe in the container I poured some white distilled vinegar on top.
I didn’t measure but I poured just enough so that it covered the horseshoe and then I sorta swished it around on top. At this point, you’ll want to add peroxide on top of your metal objects.
I then sprinkled …err dumped… a bunch of salt on my horseshoe and the rusty color started to come out even more. Then I called Eric over because I was all excited to show him, but I wanted more bubbles and fizz, so I poured a bit more hydrogen peroxide on top.
After a few minutes, I swished the horseshoe around in the solution to sort of rinse off the salt and then patted it dry with a paper towel. You’ll see that it’s a bit rusty but don’t worry if it doesn’t look exactly the way you want, it actually rusts more than it dries.
It was getting dark outside, so I just let it sit overnight and the next day this is what my horseshoe looked like, next to metal that’s been rusting for years: I made a few more horseshoes prior to this one and let some of them sit for about an hour because I wasn’t noticing the color change right away.
If you don’t like how your metal looks after 10 minutes and air drying, you can always repeat the process and keep them in the solution for a longer period of time You’ll want to add a clear sealer to prevent the rusty patina from flaking off and staining anything they touch.
After receiving a lot of comments and emails about this not working on certain objects I wanted to add that not all metals will rust. I believe it has to have iron in it in order to rust, and if it’s galvanized, stainless steel or some other type of metal that doesn’t corrode then this process won’t work.
I learned this the hard way by trying to rust some galvanized buckets I had on hand and read up about it here. If you watch the video at the top of this post you’ll see the difference in the spray vs. dunk method.
Basically, the spray method will allow more of the contrast of the original metal to show through and it is easier to work in layers and add more rust if you want. Although you’ll notice a few of my “dunked” horseshoes still have a decent amount of contrast.
Whether you wish to rust hinges and hardware to further disguise the age of distressed wooden chest or you prefer the look of older metal candlesticks atop your farmhouse table, follow these easy steps for how to rust metal and you can transform any object around your home. Lightly sand the entire surface of the metal with a fine-grit sandpaper to shed any protective coating present that might prevent the object from rusting.
Place the sanded object in the center of a plastic bin that’s rested on either hard ground or a flat work surface in the garage. As it dries, the acid of the vinegar will begin to corrode the surface of the metal and you will start to see rust appear.
Pour two cups of hydrogen peroxide, four tablespoons of white vinegar, and one-and-a-half teaspoons of table salt into a plastic spray bottle. Once the salt has dissolved, spray the solution over the object to coat it partially or completely, depending on the desired effect.
Finally, spray a thin coating of clear acrylic sealer to the dry rusted object. It will set the rust and preserve the aged appearance for years to come while providing an acrylic barrier that keeps it from inadvertently staining any other metal or wood with which it comes into contact in the future.
New galvanized steel has a bright shiny coating and a reflectivity over 70%. As the zinc patina forms, reflectivity decreases as the hot-dip galvanized coating weathers.
Vinegar acts much like the acid Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) does in the atmosphere; the pollutant that determines the rate of galvanized steel corrosion. Check out the infographic below to see the science of an acid corrosion reaction with vinegar.
If the idea is to remove the shiny look and go for a dull, weathered finish: Try Vinegar! Take the galvanized product and scuff it up sandpaper, steel wool or whatever abrasive you have handy.
If using the paper towel method, make sure to replace the vinegar as it dries to get the desired effect. Use steel wool to rough-up the finish to allow the chemical to tarnish the metal.
Using disposable gloves spray the galvanized product liberally and scrub again with the steel wool. The photo on the left shows what the galvanized metal buckets looks like distressed with toilet cleaner.
To corrode new galvanized buckets yourself: Combine 1/2 cup of salt with 1 quart of warm water. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and shake it until the salt dissolves.
Leave the salt solution on the bucket until you achieve the look you want, then rinse it off with a hose. Using either gray or white paint to give the bucket a weathered look is an excellent idea.
Aesthetically placed dents give the product a one of a kind look that shows a rustic, rugged style. Nuts, bolts or even wood that are strategically placed wherever the dent is to be located.
Fill a plastic 5-gallon bucket with two gallons of galvanized metal etching primer. Affix the shed-free cover to the roller frame and attach an extension pole.
Apply the metal etching primer to the rusted galvanized metal roof, using the roller. Roll in a vertical motion, working backward toward the extension ladder.
Wait two hours for this particular primer to dry before adding a coat of acrylic latex paint to the primed roof. Study the safety guide located on the side of the extension ladder before use.
Unfortunately, over time, this coating can fail, leading to minor rust outbreaks. Once you've conditioned the galvanized metal to accept paint, apply a rust inhibition primer to prevent a recurrence.
Many of the rusty looking assemblage elements that I add to my art actually start out as clean pieces of metal. Through a variety of experiments, I’ve come to learn a pretty consistent process for removing this galvanization and making the metal rust.
Making sure you’re wearing gloves, eye protection, and are doing this outside in a well ventilated area, add the steel plates to the tray and pour enough Adriatic Acid to cover their surface. Sometimes I’ll agitate the tray a little to ensure the acid is fully in contact with all the surfaces of the metal.
When I feel that it’s been long enough I’ll add water and baking soda to the tray to neutralize the acid and make it easier to dispose of the solution. I repeat this process a few more times, making sure to agitate the tray and flipping the pieces over to get both sides.
For the last spraying I’ll just let the metal soak in the solution and forget about it for a few hours. The last step in all of this typically comes when I’ve completed one of my assemblages, and that is to give the steel a good clear coat.